'No Frills' $75.00 home studio tent/lightbox


Enjoying the discussions
Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider
Oct 8, 2001

I have always shared my setup and methods with as many folks as have asked. Somehow, in doing so, my own business has never lost a beat. A consistently 'mysterious' question that is posed is "What is the best setup for cheap....?" I wanted to find out myself.

For many, the constraints of weather and daylight necessitate having a consistent indoor studio. Also one that can be set-up, taken down in a heartbeat, and stored away in a minimum of space. I think I came up with just such a project.

I kept the componentry costs to a bare minimum, while still maintaining the requirements of knife-specific photography. Let's look:


3-pack white posterboard $8.00
(3) clamp-on lights $21.00
(3) 26w (75watt equivalent) daylight fluorescent (5000k) bulbs $18.00
(1) Power strip $6.00
Assorted PVC elbows, and (1) 8" section of 1-1/2" pipe $15.00
(1) Box of white transluscent garbage bags for diffuser $2.00
(8) variety pak of artist's paper or a sample of wallpaper $5.00
Total: $75.00

In keeping with the no-frills scenario, I used the very lowest resolution on my camera and edited them in my ACDSee image editor (not Photoshop). Also, I set the white balance to 'auto' and hand-held the camera at a large aperature (f-3.5) and slow shutter speed. (1/60 sec. -- I would advise a tripod) Basically what I wanted to point out was that you can accomplish this with a bare minimum of equipment and readily-available image software. (There is even freeware to do so.)

Here are the samples of the images I took with this:

(Click to enlarge image)

I chose the high-polished dagger because it is probably the hardest blade to get consistent lighting with. Even with some crafty positioning I was able to accomplish it fairly well. There are hot spots, but overall it's pretty good. Toss in a little autumn leaves for some color and you have a good portfolio shot.

I'll draw up the dimensions of the posterboard frame sometime soon.

So here it is. It's hardly a mystery now!

Thanks for passing this on Coop. I really need to put something like this together and appreciate the information you provided here.
Thanks for sharing, Coop. I have been wondering about that kind of set-up for some time. Now, I know which direction to go. :)
Thanks for posting - always good to get ideas for saving money - it means theres more left for Knives :D

Mark, I only own high-end cameras now. So I changed the internal settings to record at the lowest, smallest resolution. It's hardly the way to replicate a cheap camera, but it's all I could do.

Hey that's a great little setup!!!

Good timing too. I'm heading out in a couple of weeks to a town where I can actually buy this stuff and was planning on getting what I'd need to build a proper light box.


Thanks for posting this Coop. I've been looking for something like this for a while. I have most of the stuff on hand to make a setup like that.
Thank you, Coop! :)

Great to have the pic and list of materials...........gotta give it a try, beats the hell out of trying to shoot a pic under a desk lamp. :eek:

EDITED TO ADD: I'm sure that ya meant 8' (feet) of 1 1/2" PVC........ ;)
My original setup was very much like yours, but I couldnt live with the shadow in front of the knife. I tried to make one with lights on three sides, but it doesnt work any better.

Back to the drawing board!!?? :confused:
Hi Guys,

Thanks for the comments. Yup, that's supposed to be 8 FEET of PVC. :)

Tom, I am going to try placing some reflective foil that you can buy at a party supply store on the face of that front panel. That is how I light up that side in my normal setup. I don't use another light.

An extremely thoughtful and helpful post Coop. You should post this in as many places as you can think of as we ALL benefit from better photos being taken and posted.

And it's nice to see the Hajovsky again. ;)

Very helpful Coop-just what this relative newbie needed to see. I'll give it a whirl. Thank you for posting
Thanks a lot Coop, great thing :D .

But I've got one question, is posterboard thick and stiff material or is it just thicker white paper. Since searching for posterboard on german google only came up with Epson posterboard printing paper and some "soft foam plates".

I think the name posterboard is just not very common over here.

Thanks a lot in advance.

Regards Marcus

Have you tried that product? I'm interested in the dimensions of Coop's setup and wondering whether the 16" by 16" base of the product you referenced would be large enough to accomodate larger bowies.

Thanks, John for dismissing my work. :rolleyes: That box is hardly the 'same'. How will these lights will color balance:
Two, studio quality, high output 2800K Tungsten lamps for excellent & even color temperature and clarity.
2800k? That is exactly what I am trying to steer folks AWAY from. those are strong incandescent lamps that have the dreaded 'yellow' cast. Notice they have no example photos or reviews worth posting.

The lightbox I designed is 28" wide. Capable of folders to bowies. Believe it, you need a lot of extra space for 15" knives. the daylight bulbs are there for a reason, and without an upper well-lit diffuser, knife photography looks poor. That one has none of that. So it's similar, but hardly the same.

I'm certain you meant well, but it's simply a bad deal. I spent a LOT of time putting this together for the sole interest of *sharing* some of my hard-earned lessons. Whether you realized it or not, your post just made me look like a fool for trying.

Marcus, what I refer to as 'posterboard' may be something different in Europe. It is about 6mm thick with a foam core. Office supply stores have them.